Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
I was already in awe the moment we pulled into Longwood Gardens, the main destination of a weekend road trip my mother and I took at the end of the summer. From the elegant main entryway, past the shapely hedges that line the parking lot, to the containers overflowing with various ornamental plants at visitor center building, you could tell this was no ordinary garden.
Once within the gardens, an impressive bald cypress allée entices you onward with of hedges of arborvitae that seem to stretch on forever. Once through the impressive portal you are set loose into a sprawling estatewith wooded walks, meadow paths, and a sizable lake. If you desire a more orderly landscape, you can pass through the archway into the Flower Garden Walk. Here you can walk along aisles of perfectly pairedplantings in all range of colors, backed with hearty swaths of ornamental grass. There are unexpected stairways into separate garden “rooms” with fountains and miniature palm trees. These are known as the Wisteria & Peony gardens and I imagine they appear even more impressive in their respective blooming seasons. The Topiary Garden is straight out of a fairytale and I only wish I could have strolled among the sculpted evergreen yews, but we were forced to admire them from afar.
The odd twist to this majestic, sprawling gardens is its particular focus on fountains, which they take to spectacular heights. This was a direct contribution of Pierre du Pont who took over the former arboretum in 1906 and brought his love of fountains to life. You can sit in the Open Air Theatre, enclosed with tall columns of shaped arborvitae and witness an otherwise-standard stage burst forth with a full waterworks display, timed to a swooping orchestrated soundtrack.
The fountain highlight for me was the Italian Water Garden, which took my breath away before I even witnessed the choreographed ballet of water streams soaring across bright blue pools and trim green grass. I was so captivated I have a whole photo gallery devoted to it on my website. Unfortunately the main fountains are under construction until 2017, but there were so many other highlights that dazzle and amaze there was no reason for lament.
And if you weren’t suffering from aesthetic fatigue yet, there is the grand Conservatory that just about steals the whole show. A massive structure, the conservatory houses 20 indoor gardens including The Orangery, Palm House, Silver Garden, and the Tropical Terrace. I had to walk through twice to make sure I covered each section of the greenhouse. I was once again spellbound by the sections of green grass edged with layers of varying flowers and vines creeping up stately columns in the main conservatory area, along with the impressive Exhibition Hall. A personal favorite spot was Acacia Passage, a narrow passageway where nimble trees with long wispy strand of leaves create a stunning covered walkway, set aglow when the sun beams in from above.
I have heard that Longwood is especially appreciated with repeat visits throughout the year as there are constantly rotating displays to fit the season. Also look out for their special nighttime programs that add another dimension to the overall garden experience. I saw the Nightscape show with trippy lights projected onto plants and trees and with spooky mood music (it’s ending this weekend, Oct.31) but I hear the Christmas light display is a visitor favorite. Fall takes center stage in their current display, “Autumn’s Colors,” which includes a Chrysanthemum Festival that sounds like a must-see.
Final Rating: My mother and I drove several hours, planned a whole weekend around it, and paid $27 dollars for the whole day/night experience, and I will say it was totally worth it. This was a garden like very few others I have seen, a massive property expertly kept in top condition with too many “main” attractions to list. I will definitely be planning more visits in the future to experience all the seasons at this spectacular garden. 5 BLOOM RATING!